My Children Will Never Know

When I was in junior high, my mom saw a bunch of boys that I was friends with buying Trojans in the local grocery store. Even though many of those pimply faced teens would never get the chance to use those condoms until long after they had expired, my mother panicked.

Deductive reasoning told her that if the boys in my grade were purchasing rubbers, then…

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We hadn’t had “The Talk” yet, and so, like a mad woman, she raced home to find me, only I wasn’t there.

As any bored thirteen-year-old would do on a Saturday afternoon, I had hopped on my bike and pedaled to a friend’s house. I’m sure I left a note of some kind, albeit one that didn’t reveal my destination since I often didn’t have an exact end in mind, but these were the days before cell phones, the days when it wasn’t unusual for kids to spend whole afternoons in the fresh air. Yet seeing how I didn’t live in a neighborhood so much as in the middle of a potato farm, my boundaries were less-defined. My mother could yell for me till the cows came home, and cows might literally show up before I would.

In this instance, my mother had only two choices: to wait for me to return (mind racing, envisioning worst-case scenarios) or to track me down like a bounty hunter.

With the determination and paranormal instinct that only a mother can possess, she got in her car.

I was a whole town over when she pulled up alongside me. By the time she had stopped and rolled down the window, my mother had worked herself up from a low simmer to a full boil.

“Get. In. The. Car.”

I’d heard that tone many a time: I was in dangerous territory.

“But my bike.”

I didn’t know what I had done, but I reasoned if I could ride back home, I’d buy myself some time. Hopefully, it would allow for my mother to calm down enough to realize that killing me wouldn’t benefit either one of us; instead she popped the trunk.

I struggled to fit my ten-speed in the back while she waited inside the vehicle, and once I had buckled up, it didn’t take long before she broke the silence.

“I saw those boys you’re friends with buying condoms at the store today. Condoms! What were they buying condoms for, Sara?!”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Mom, I’m not having sex if that’s what you think.”

“I know you’re not having sex. You know how I know? Because I’m your mother. I know everything.”

“The Talk” ended up being fairly short– the gist of it being that I was never, EVER, to have sex with those boys. I was able to reassure my mother of my virtuous ways (“Ew, Mom, gross!”), and seeing as how she didn’t really want to have “The Talk” any more than I did, we dropped the whole conversation, that is, until my sister came home later that evening and I got to retell the story over dinner in a dramatic rendering that left us both laughing. (Mom did not find my reenactment all that funny.)

Still, this is more than just a story about my mother’s psychic abilities, which I still believe she possesses today. Rather, this is a story about an experience that defined my adolescence.

Last year, my oldest daughter began sex-Ed in school. She was traumatized by some of what she learned, refusing to play with the boys at afternoon recess that day because, as she put it, “It’s just weird now, it’s like, I know their secrets.”  After she came home, and in the weeks that followed, there were lots of questions. I guess, in many ways, we’ve already begun “The Talk.” Still, if they are fortunate enough, my children will never know what it is like to have me hunt them down and find them with only sheer will, maternal instinct, and a little bit of luck.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of all the experiences that today’s children will never have.

Fewer and fewer kids are making mud pies or playing outside till the streetlights come on. When my children start roaming farther from home and I want to know where they are, I’ll probably just send a text. And by tracking their phones, I could know exactly where they are, letting a GPS take me there turn by turn, a thought that terrifies the teenager I used to be.

On the flip side though, my children will also be able to text me when they need a ride. They won’t sit outside the dentist’s office for hours plucking at the grass and wondering when their mom will finally remember she was supposed to get them. They won’t wait outside after play rehearsal watching one by one as their friends leave, the occasional mom or dad calling out from a minivan, “Do you need a ride?” They won’t hoof it home after swimming at a friend’s house, walking for miles in damp jean shorts that chafe the inside of their thighs, turning them an angry red. No. With phones at everyone’s fingertips, my children will probably Uber before they’ll scrounge for a ride.

Technology has made it so my children will never know what it is like to go to 7-11 in order to find out where the party’s at. When the parking lot of Sevs was empty, we didn’t get FOMO. We got Big Gulps. Then, we got back in our cars and drove from beach to beach trying to find the party for ourselves.

When I was a teen, we didn’t have group messages, we had three-way calling. If you were lucky, your family had a portable phone. If you weren’t, you stretched the cord from the kitchen to the bathroom to talk in privacy until your mother picked up the other line and told you to hang up.

We weren’t drug dealers or doctors, but nevertheless, we carried beepers and sent our boyfriends the first numeric text message: 143. And when our best friend stayed home sick, we took a quarter to the pay phone in school and dialed one of the many numbers we knew by heart to find out how she was.

We waited all night for the radio to play the perfect song to record on the mixed tape we were making for our Boo, and waited all week for our pictures to get developed at Genovese Drug Store. Out of an entire roll, we were lucky to get two or three good ones, pictures that wouldn’t go on Instagram, but ended up in our scrapbook next to collages we had made from Seventeen magazine. That was our #aesthetic.

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My children will never spend the first week of school making covers for their textbooks from brown shopping bags. They’ll never know card catalogues or what it’s like to find information without Google. They’ll never peck out their first papers on a typewriter, feeling the agony of every mistake. While I would much rather write a research paper today than when I sat at a microfiche machine, there are some things I experienced growing up that I hope will remain the same.

……………………..

I hope my children will know what it’s like to have someone ask them out face-to-face. I hope they will know what it feels like to hold a sweaty hand in a darkened movie theater, wondering if tonight will be their first kiss.

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{via Gifer.com}

And even though I work in a public high school and vomit a little in my mouth each time I witness a make-out session in the halls, I hope they will have someone who waits at their locker and walks them to class someday. They don’t need an elaborate promposal, a grotesque gesture designed to get the most likes on social media, but a simple, heartfelt request that makes their cheeks blush and their heart flutter before they answer yes.

I want my children to see their friends’ faces illuminated by bonfires, not screens. I want them to know what it feels like to spend hours on the phone talking with a loved one. I want their relationships to take place in real life, but fewer and fewer these days do.

Still, when I recently chaperoned the homecoming dance at the high school where I teach, I realized, as more and more kids showed up to dance the night away, that it hasn’t all changed. As I watched the awkward encounters of boys and girls and listened to the shouts as the DJ played a favorite song, their movements becoming more frenetic, the gymnasium hotter, the air less sweet, my friend yelled over the music to me, “I’m glad they still do this. I’m glad that technology hasn’t taken away everything.”

Looking out at the sea of bodies on the dance floor, I thought about my oldest daughter who in four short years would be here, singing along with her friends to the song that marks the end of every dance. As the students swayed, belting out the lyrics of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, I couldn’t agree more.

 

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The Wolf Strikes Again

You stood before my dresser mirror brushing your hair. I stood a few feet away and watched you.

You wore no socks, no shoes, and I couldn’t help but think, “My, what big feet you have.”

“The better to wear high heels with,” I supposed.

I saw the silk of your hair and noted how your lips are still as plump as when you were a baby. With your large, blue-green eyes and the slope of your nose, you are beautiful, but you haven’t realized this yet.

I, however, have known it all along.

I observed your long legs and thought about how you have outgrown yet another bike. Your figure is changing too. You are maturing, and every day, I hold my breath… and wait. It won’t be long before we are shopping for bras and I am watching your cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Lately I joke that if you had an extra head atop your own, you’d be as tall as me. What you cannot know is that each time I wrap my arms around you, I kiss your parted hair if only to measure whether you’ve grown. I rest my chin, breathe in your smell, and try to be your cloak, to protect you.

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In front of that mirror, for just a moment, you seemed already a woman, and I was mesmerized.

But then, the brush got snagged in a knot of hair and you turned to me for help. Just like that, you were my child again, albeit one with great, big feet.

Still, the shift has begun. The other evening when I reminded you to use better table manners, I felt the weight of your stare. There was resistance there and defiance flickered in your irides. For now, these challenges pass quickly, but soon, you will be consumed. When that time comes, you will gnash your teeth and growl at me. You will attack when you feel you’ve been provoked–and everything will provoke you.

I know because when I was only a little older than you, I stopped listening to my mother. I ventured into the dark wood and was swallowed whole by the wolf.

Your feet may seem in disproportion to the rest of you now, but when you are freed from the beast, your transformation will be complete. You won’t be my little red riding hood any longer, but I will still be your mother and I will await the day I hear your high heeled shoes on that well-worn path as you return home, to me.

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A More Mindful Summer

Not too long ago, I came across a post by Simple As That. It was titled, Eighteen Summers: That’s All We Get and it was about savoring each moment we have with our children. The author of the blog, Rebecca, reminisces about her chubby-legged baby and quickly fast-forwards to that same child’s future high school graduation, pondering whether her tears on that day will be from joy or regret. She then goes on to offer five promises for making the most of each summer because, as she mentions, time is slipping by.

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I was still thinking about that post a few weeks later when I took my children to the water park. Watching as they played in the wave pool, my youngest was gleefully being buffeted by the waves; each time she got pushed back, she smiled so wide that I could see the gap from her two missing teeth. Last summer, she could only venture in the water with a life vest, usually holding onto my hand painfully tight, and this year, she was body surfing all on her own as I watched from the edge, only my toes getting lapped by the water.

Future milestones flashed before my eyes: driving a car, falling in love, learning to fly. I look forward to each one, just as I look forward to each summer I get to spend with my children, for each summer there are new experiences that the previous summer lacked.

Next summer, I anticipate that my youngest will be tall enough to finally ride the bigger slides at the water park. I can’t wait to see the excitement in her eyes and hear her squeal the whole way down.

Time marches on, my children get older, and I’m ok with that.

According to thousands of mothers everywhere, children are growing up at alarming rates. In a month’s time, babies have learned to feed themselves, they have started to walk, they have even (gasp!) gotten bigger. Every day I see posts on social media where moms are begging for time to slow down.

When it comes to my own kids, I’ve never mourned the passage of time. When I observe my children having a new experience, it feels like a gift. Each time they learn something, I am there to witness it. Their growth means they are healthy and thriving, and that’s not something I wish to impede. On the contrary, I want to be the one who pushes them towards their independence. After all, isn’t that my job as their parent?

Gone are the days of leaky swim diapers and timing activities around a nap schedule. This summer, I can bring a book to the water park and do a little reading. I no longer have to hover over my children and stand at the end of every slide waiting to catch them. Their growing up means a little more freedom for them and a little more down time for me. I’m able to relax, and being more relaxed, I enjoy our outings even more. I can pay attention to the details, the ones that imprint these memories forever so that whenever a certain song plays on the radio, or the sun casts a precise shade of pink in the sky, I am towed back.

We will never be able to slow down time, but we can change our perception of it. By paying more attention to the moments so many moms are wishing to hold onto, time will feel like it’s moving slower. It turns out that remembering to post that six-month milestone photo might be one of the things making it seem like it’s all going by too fast. When we are busy multi-tasking, when we are operating on auto-pilot, when we fail to pay attention, that’s when we blink and another year is gone. Ironically, since routine is one of the things that makes time feel like it is moving more quickly, keeping your tyke a tyke would theoretically make the problem worse.

If you really want time to slow down, simply practice mindfulness.

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{via Pinterest}

This summer, I plan to take the time to watch them play, to observe how the sun has lightened their hair, to examine the newest freckles on my daughter’s nose. I want to really listen to their stories and take note of the things that make them laugh. My own mother will spend a week with us this July and not only will she get another slice of summer with me, but she will also get to experience it with her grandchildren: days at the lake spent catching crawdads, watching fireworks at night, roasting marshmallows in the backyard, taking an afternoon nap on the hammock in the shade. I’m sure that she will re-live some memories from when I was my children’s ages and she was mine. Yet if I asked her if she’d like to go back in time and press pause, I’m certain she would say no.

Slow or fast, there is no guarantee how much time we will get, but I’m going to be mindful for each summer I share with my kids. And when they are grown, I hope I have the opportunity to do it all again with their children.

Life is about moving forward. To stand still means missing out on all that lies ahead.

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This is Nine

For my daughter’s ninth birthday, she asked for three things:

  1. To be allowed to ride in the front seat of the car
  2. To walk to and from school by herself each day
  3. A laptop

To celebrate turning nine, she invited some friends over for a slumber party. It was at this party, during the Spin the (Nail Polish) Bottle game, where I learned that there are girls and boys in the third grade who mutually “like” one another.

As she and her friends talked, I frantically tried to assist with the nail painting even though none of them wanted my help. With each revelation of who liked who, my eyes grew. I tried to send messages with them to my husband who was reclining on the couch pretending that there weren’t 60 fingers grabbing six different fluorescent polishes on our living room rug. Had he been able to interpret what my eyeballs were screaming, it would have sounded something like this: Boys! Already?!? Did you know about this?!? And then, as another glob of nail polish dropped onto the thin plastic table-cloth I had put down as a shield, Shit!

Instead, he sent back his own message that read: What? I Don’t Know What You are Saying. Why Don’t You Speak Words Like a Normal Person? He did, however, come join me on the floor in my mission to, at the very least, teach the girls how to wipe the excess polish off the wand before applying it. Only when the talk of boys stopped and the farting and giggling began was I mollified.

This is nine.

As the mother of a nine-year-old, I have developed a new super-power: I embarrass my daughter in public. When I dropped her off for Art Camp and learned that their day would start with creative movement, she was mortified when I demonstrated a few of my own moves. She physically tried to restrain my arms as she pleaded for me to stop and then literally pushed me towards the exit.

Sometimes, it takes much less: At a restaurant one morning, I signaled to our server to wait a second as I finished chewing my food before requesting some apple juice for my daughter.

“That was so embarrassing, Mom.”

“What was?”

“The waitress was staring at us.”

“She was waiting to see what we needed.”

“It was embarrassing.”

Or rather, I was embarrassing.

Along with my new super-power, she has acquired a talent of her own: The Eye Roll. This eye roll goes into full effect several times a day. At the dinner table, in the back seat of the car (the one I painfully still make her sit in), and whenever my husband and I say anything remotely funny…which is pretty much all the time. Occasionally, she will substitute the eye roll for a one-sided upper lip snarl that could rival Billy Idol. At nine, she emphasizes every last word she utters. I did not-tah. Leave me alone-na. Sometimes resorting to dramatic sighs and guttural noises to express her general displeasure with members of her family.

The one wordless communication my husband and I have mastered is the look we give each other when visions of this Tween-To-Be appear before us. For now, it is accompanied by a smirk as if to convince ourselves that this is all very funny. Ha Ha! Look at how she is acting. Oh boy! We’re in for it soon. But soon isn’t now, so we foolishly laugh. Only deep inside, I cringe.

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Each time she tells us that she’s basically a teenager, we remind her not to grow up too fast. But more and more, I notice that she doesn’t always want to play with her little sister, that My Little Pony has been replaced with Girl Meets World, and that when she wakes up in the morning, she stays in her room and goes on her tablet rather than coming to snuggle with me.

Despite that she refuses to hold my hand as we walk through a parking lot and her bedroom door is closed more than it is open, there are still times when she lies across my legs and asks me to rub and scratch her back, there are still moments when she nestles under my arm as we watch TV, and still occasions when she looks at me and randomly tells me that she loves me before planting a kiss on my lips, an act that, for now, still requires that she stand on tip-toes.

These days, time is fleeting. I feel it more poignantly than I ever did when she was a baby. The little girl juxtaposed with the pre-teen. Moments where she is goofy and carefree are shadowed by ones where I am reminding her to not be so sassy. There’s a moodiness about her that makes me ask her what’s wrong on a regular basis. Her answer is always “nothing.”

This is nine. It’s the way she forges her own path as we walk, but also stops to pick a dandelion for her sister. It’s the way she begs for her independence yet still asks me to tuck her in at night and sing her “Oh My Darling.” As she dances in the living room, I see some of the same spastic moves she performed with as a toddler, yet there’s a gentler swaying in her hips and her legs are lithe and lean. Next year in school, she’ll experience the joys of Sex Ed. Her innocence having slipped through my fingers like grains of sand.

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This is nine. It’s the start of middle childhood and the end of baby teeth. The last year before she hits double-digits. A straddle year…with one foot rooted in her yesteryear and one that’s all-too quickly growing towards tomorrow. And it’s only just begun. With all the door slamming, the sibling bickering, and the “Stay Out” signs posted on her bedroom door, I hope that we’ll survive…after all, we’ve still got her adolescence to look forward to.

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Something Stinks

For those of you who have read my past blogs, you will know about the trip to Hawaii my husband and I were taking for our ten-year wedding anniversary. We spent a sun-drenched week in Maui with equal parts romance and adventure. It was one of the best vacations of my life, but by the week’s end, I was ready to return home. Each day that we spent in Maui, I was keenly aware of the children around us and I was looking forward to the first morning back when my girls would climb into our bed before the sun had fully risen. I wanted to snuggle them and hold their warm bodies next to mine, give them ten thousand kisses and breathe them in.

And that’s exactly what I did.

But each time I inhaled–expecting to be greeted by that soft perfume of youthful skin and freshly shampooed hair–I smelled something else.

I smelled…B.O.

At first, I assumed it was me. After all, I had just flown on a couple of planes and traveled for half a day; arriving home after midnight, we went straight to bed. It wouldn’t be unusual if I had, say, developed a little stank in the night. I can be quite the Sweaty Betty despite wearing the strongest deodorant available without a prescription.

So I checked myself. It wasn’t the Mary Katherine Gallagher method; I just gave myself a good head tilt, lifted the ole’ arm and inhaled. I was shocked to find out that I actually smelt rather pleasant. (Superstar!)

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Yet the odor persisted. It was definitely B.O. and it definitely wasn’t me (I checked a few more times just to be sure.) And then I did the unthinkable. I smelled my daughter’s armpits … It was her!

How can an 8-year old have B.O.? B.O. was the first sign of puberty, wasn’t it? My daughter cannot be starting puberty at the same time she starts the third grade.

I mean, I buy ORGANIC MILK for crying out loud!

How is it possible that I went away for one week and suddenly my daughter is starting a whole new phase of her life, just like that?

I went through all the stages of grief in the course of that first day home: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. OK, maybe I skipped over anger, but I made up for it with a double-dose of denial.

As I have mentioned before, it takes a village to raise a child. My village mostly consists of my best friends, my mom, my husband, and the internet. That day, they were all addressed in that order.

First, I texted my friend whose children are the same ages as mine. As an experienced second and fifth grade teacher, I figured she could give me fairly sound information regarding when kids start to stink. However, when she told me her son had been wearing deodorant for a year already, I found little comfort in it. I started thinking back to articles I’d read that claimed there were links between wearing deodorant and breast cancer and worry flooded me.

Then I thought, maybe I could make my own, all-natural deodorant for her. It couldn’t be that hard, right? I’m sure there would be a recipe on Pinterest. She might end up smelling like a hippie, but she wouldn’t smell like B.O. and hopefully I wouldn’t be dooming her to a future mastectomy all because I made her wear anti-perspirant before she hit her double-digits.

Yet I had to do something. As a teacher who has spent many a painful hour only breathing through my mouth in a windowless classroom, the odor pooling around that one teenager who wears the same sweatshirt every single day even when it’s 90 degrees outside, I refuse to let my child be the smelly kid.

Meanwhile, I was still in the denial stage. I made her take a shower, hoping it was some kind of fluke.

“Wash your armpits really good…With SOAP,” I yelled to her through the shower door.

When she got out, I asked her again, “Did you wash your armpits?”

“I washed here, here, here, and here.” She pointed to her pits, the insides of her elbows, behind her knees, and her hip flexors. “All my joints!” she told me with a smile so big I could still see the two teeth she’d recently lost.

How is this happening? This is not the voice of a pre-pubescent.

Lost in denial, I tried to continue my day but I couldn’t put it out of my mind. Throwing in a load of laundry, I sniffed the pajamas that she had been wearing that morning. Yup, still there. I wasn’t imagining this, but only time would truly tell.

So after bike-riding, after lunch, and after karate, I asked my daughter to let me smell her. Lifting her arm, I took a whiff.

There it was again.

“Miss, you’re going to have to come with me.”

We marched to the bathroom and I gave her a roll-on deodorant I happened to have hanging around the back of the medicine cabinet. It was the kind that smells like baby powder.

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“You’re going to have to start wearing this,” I told her. Then, after she curiously sniffed it, I lifted up her arm and started putting it on her to show her how it’s done. She stood there wiggling and giggling, telling me how much it tickled.

She’s only eight! I was silently bargaining with God or whomever could reverse this curse, knowing full-well how futile it would be.

Later that night, after the kids were in bed and I was trying to catch up with the episodes of Housewives I had missed while on vacation, I found myself pausing the show to turn to the other part of my village: Google.

If I had to do my wedding all over again, I’d ask Google to be my Maid of Honor. When neither my husband or I could remember how close my contractions should be before heading to the hospital, I yelled to him between pained breaths “GOOGLE IT!” When I needed to decide what baby formula to buy after I stopped breastfeeding, I asked Google. Wanted to read reviews on forward-facing car seats? Google. Strange rash? Google. Even when my daughter lost her first tooth, I turned to Google. She’s only four and a half…Is that normal? Yes, Google reassured me. Yes, it is.

And there, on the internet, is where I started to find acceptance…and an all-natural, kids deodorant on Amazon.

Thanks to Google, I stopped panicking that Santa would be bringing training bras and a copy of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for Christmas this year. It wasn’t time…yet. Kids start to get stinky around this age and that’s just a part of life.

But my baby is growing up, whether I accept it or not. And I don’t want to be angry or depressed about it. I want to rejoice in the beautiful young lady she is becoming. I can’t slow time. For each day that passes, she grows, she learns, and she matures into the stunning girl I see before me now. I just have to reassure myself that no matter how old she gets, she’s always going to be my baby…even if it’s just a slightly smellier version.